We got an opportunity to interview Naiyya who is a Fulbright-Nehru fellow and is pursuing her MBA at Harvard Business School. She gave us a peek into her MBA App effort. Following are the highlights of our conversation.

MBAfusion: What was your GMAT Score? How did you prepare for it?

Naiyya: I scored a 680. A 3 week leave helped me to prepare for my GMAT. I started with the standard test on GMATPrep and scored a mere 610. While verbal was my high-scoring section, I was basically messing up on Quant. During the leave, I would study for about 6 hours daily with a lot of help from a friend of mine and focus on improving my Quant skills.

Kaplan, Princeton and Manhattan were the other tests that I took. Princeton, although an easier test, was the closest to the real GMAT. Official Guide and Princeton were the books I referred to.

MBAfusion: How did you go about choosing your schools?

Naiyya: My McKinsey network helped me to choose and research schools. I had planned to apply to Harvard and Stanford. Columbia with rolling admissions was a good option as a backup.

Moreover, being a Fulbright-Nehru fellowship awardee, I had to choose my schools from USA only. Hence, ISB, INSEAD and LBS were struck out of the list.

MBAfusion: How did you go about building your story and managing your essay-writing process?

Naiyya: My story line was pretty clear. Coming from a business consulting background, I wanted to move into a management role in the development space and I strongly felt that the MBA could be an excellent enabler in terms of providing me the right opportunities, networks and skill-sets.

I spent about a month to write and polish the essays. Apart from my mother and sister who helped me to understand whether the essays sounded like me, I took help from three of my friends (all B-School students/grads) for essays reviews. My essays went through 3-4 iterations before being finalized. The feedback that I received ranged from content suggestions to track changes.

I would strongly recommend applicants to first make a skeleton of the essays before starting to draft the actual essays. The top 3-5 things that you want to cover should be listed down with the incidents that you are going to use to support them. You should then send this skeleton to your reviewers to understand whether the content and the incidences that you have chosen are appropriate, bolster your story and are impactful. Running this mock could make your essay writing process extremely efficient.

MBAfusion: Any specific difficulty that you faced?

Naiyya: Choosing which optional essays to write was tough for me. I started with writing them and based on how well they came out, made my choices.

“Choosing three most significant accomplishments” essay was the most thought provoking one for me.

MBAfusion: How did you choose your recommenders?

Naiyya: I chose two of my ex-supervisors from McKinsey and a current supervisor from the Public Health Foundation of India. They asked me to provide them with the reasons I wanted to apply to the specific b-school and also points that I was hoping they could cover through the recommendations. They then, very importantly really took the time and effort to write recommendations that genuinely reflected my strengths and development needs well and supported their statements with incidents from work.

MBAfusion: How much time did you get for preparing for your interviews? How did you go about the preparations?

Naiyya: I got around two weeks for my preparation. I went through some interview experiences online. I read my resume and essays thoroughly once again. One of my friends had provided me with certain standard questions. Against each of the question, I put down 3 points that I wanted to speak about during the interview.

MBAfusion: What was your interview experience like?

Naiyya: My interview was taken by an adcom member. There were certain standard questions: Why HBS? Where do you work currently? What is your current project? Why did you quit your last job? What do you want to get out of your MBA experience?

Since it is an HBS interview, it definitely stresses you out. So keeping your cool is one of the challenges. The interviewer is under a lot of time pressure as he/she has to finish the interview in 30 minutes. So, (s)he keeps looking at her/his watch which makes you wonder about whether your profile and the conversation is interesting enough. The biggest challenge in those compressed 30-minutes is being structured in your answers/communication and talking about everything that you wanted to share.

MBAfusion: How did you spend your time between hearing your results and leaving for the US?

Naiyya: I moved back to Mumbai and joined a social initiative that looked at supporting kids by providing them shelter. I spent time with my grandparents and travelled for a bit to London and across India.

Post-discussion Naiyya gave us the following points to keep in mind:

  1. Choose your mentors carefully: Do not choose more than 3-4 mentors. Choose mentors who are really interested in your development. Make sure you keep them in loop throughout your MBA app process and that you thank them appropriately once you make it through. I now realize and appreciate that they were taking out valuable time from very busy schedules and would strongly advise candidates to respect their time accordingly.
  2. Do not worry too much about GMAT. Meet a minimum bar.
  3. During your homework on schools speak to the current students and try to get the latest news from campus. The latest things are often not captured on the website. For example, to an HBS applicant I would suggest understanding the recent changes in the curriculum that emphasize  field-based learning. Peer learning should be another focus in HBS essays. 70% of what I am learning at HBS is from my peers.
  4. Prepare a list of fellowships for MBA (Yes!) as the application procedure for these is extremely cumbersome and may eat away a majority of your time. Therefore, collecting information beforehand and starting early for efficient time allocation is a must. Following are a few fellowships that I came across:
    1. a. Fulbright Nehru Fellowship
    2. b. JN Tata Endowment Scholarship Programme
    3. c. K C Mahindra Trust

About Naiyya

Naiyya Saggi is a MBA candidate at Harvard Business School. Naiyya is supported at Harvard by the Fulbright-Nehru Masters in Leadership Development Fellowship and the J.N.Tata Endowment.

Prior to HBS, Naiyya was selected for secondment at the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI). Naiyya worked as the executive aide to the President and was the team lead for donor relationships. She helped frame the long term strategy for the organization and led the reorganization initiative. Before PHFI, Naiyya was at McKinsey & Co. where among other projects, she led the creation of the national nutrition strategy for a major foundation. She also worked on scaling up the services of a public-private emergency medical services provider which is now present in >10 states in India. Naiyya has received her BA.LLB (Hons) from the National Law School of India University, Bangalore. Naiyya has a particular interest in issues of women and child development issues in the South Asian context and has published and presented papers on this topic at national and international forums. Naiyya is happy to discuss MBA plans especially with applicants interested in making a career in the development space.

Contact: naiyya@gmail.com

© 2011, MBAfusion. All rights reserved.